I heard the term “collective effervescence” in a recent podcast and goose bumps rose on my skin. It resonated utterly familiar but ironically unnamed. We all know this: when the atmosphere magically crystallizes at a concert, a ballpark, a festival. Durkheim, a French sociologist, coined the term in reference to religious gatherings. He observed that song and rhythm connect people to create moments of unified transcendence. Any shared experience of collective emotion unifies a group.
The goose bumps were quickly followed by tears as it dawned on me that we have not had this, you have not had this, I have not had this healing prescription in any form in six months. We receive a vital medicine in live music venues, live theater, motion picture houses, houses of worship, crowd-filled celebrations. It happens in a yoga studio surrounded by embodied mat practitioners. Anywhere, anytime we authentically share an event with a group of fellow human beings, there is potential to generate collective effervescence. Consider life as it used to be: where did you receive this medicine?
For me, what really hit home, where the deficit feels deeply jarring in its absence, is the reliable dose I received twice a week for twenty years on the dance floor. Often more than that. Not only have I not received, my skill in creating the experience for others has lain dormant. What might surprise you is that the act of creating collective effervescence offers up double the medicinal dose. It is deeply unpleasant to be with my attachment to this, drift in and out of the pain of loss, acknowledge how my systemic health was regulated through this essential community practice.
Oh yes, we are dancing on Zoom. Maybe you’ve danced with a Zoom community; maybe not. I’ve heard more than my share of opinions about this experience from seasoned practitioners, but I only speak for myself here. It. Is. Not. The. Same. Zoom-land is always interesting, even intriguing. Often frustrating. It tickles me how the technology has offered opportunity for those too shy or intimidated or scared to show up in person to dance. First ever experience on Zoom. Amazing. Sometimes we move in our boxes and land in a shared zone of collective empathy. Which has value in these times. I know we are fortunate to have this technology; truly it offers us so much. But it is a whole different animal than body-to body, face-to-face live and, at least for me, does not provide the collective medicine on which I deeply depend.
Every summer we take a break from teaching Wednesday Waves and it was really good to stand in that tradition this year. Time to feel into what had come to pass and wonder how we might shape the fall, given this new experiential base. It’s a crazy world out there and we truly want to support you in staying aware, remaining awake, feeling alive and connected. Going into the pandemic, we felt blessed to lean into an established foothold in this transformative practice. Somehow we have to find a way to move alone together through this strange chapter.
But right here I want to name the humongous elephant in the Zoom room: the glory of together—partner and communal—is pretty much on hold right now. The current on-line practice supports our relationship with numero uno, our interior dance. Here’s the deal: if you’re a dancer who derives the most juice from taking a partner or bathing in the collective, this current practice will challenge you. And maybe that’s just what you need. Just a thought, who knows? For those who delight in dancing in the corner, cringe when the invitation is to take a partner, this will definitely reinforce that preference. It is what it is.
This fall we work with what is and flesh the internal exploration more fully. 5Rhythms is an exceptional map for that AND there are many other maps into that interior landscape. Both Majica and I have complementary skills we have been using in other formats uniquely applicable to the on-line experience. The rich world of art therapy, counseling, yoga and physical therapy combined with dance will illuminate our inner space. Alone together we’ll create a dynamic way to explore the body, open to feelings, become aware of thoughts. This is the map. As body, heart, mind align, a portal reveals a gateway to soul and spirit. Alone together.
This is an invitation to move in uncharted territory, practice for life in a world changing so rapidly. This dynamic practice of presence is not only revelatory, but revolutionary. It feels like it might be a matter of survival. Come with us as if your life depended on it and we’ll do this alone together.
And for now, the warm memory of collective effervescence will just have to be enough. Love, Bella
Moving on my mat, the Tahoe earth held me last week. When I rested, stretched out looking at trees and sky, a thought dropped into the empty space. How does that happen? But there it was: I’m smack dab in the midst of one crazy initiation into the eighth decade of life. What a friggin’ absurd transition: decade change + pandemic. I’m a meaning-making animal. Maybe you are, too. What in the world could this juxtaposition signify?
I continued to breathe. Soften. Open. Until a precise teeter-totter balance came all over me, echoed in this ending line from Birdwings by Rumi:
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings.
We spotted four eagles in our time there. The teeter-totter of bird wings. On one wing the vibrancy of life force moves through me, an omni-present will to live, dependable, energetically unstoppable. Poised on the other wing? Utter willingness to let go, deep trust in the perfection of endings, curious lack of attachment to continuing this life. Beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings.
This foundational sensibility was paved two years ago. Six months of dancing with illness instigated a realistic partnership with mortality. An alliance that fundamentally shifted me. The confluence of this decade change with the no-end-in-sight pandemic has delivered mortality front and center again. But this sense of will to live perfectly balanced with willingness to let go…that feels new and peacefully accurate as summer moves to fall.
The teeter-totter of the seasons is on the horizon, fall equinox’s perfect balance of day and night. All this corona trouble began at the other end, the last equinox. We’ve teetered together through two full seasons of trial and challenge. I asked my Osho Tarot deck to offer guidance for the totter into these next two seasons. And I drew the trust card.
“There is a tremendous sense of exhilaration if we can take the jump
and move into the unknown, even if the idea scares us to death…
the leap is the thing, the thrill as we free-fall through empty sky.”
Perhaps balance emerges side by side with trust. What does it mean to trust my gut, hear the impulses that arise low down, align with them? Can I trust this beating heart, tune into the whispery voice, not just the noisy one? When’s the last time intuition guided me, do I trust those surprising thoughts that drop in the empty space?
I’m taking a couple weeks off from teaching. Going to the Lost Coast. Somehow that feels appropriate. Sunday Sweat Your Prayers goes on without a break. Thank goodness. Wednesday Waves starts again September 9. I’m excited, filled with that energetically unstoppable life force about what Majica and I are brewing up around that…more later. Loving how we have travelled together through two full seasons and ready for Essentials to begin again September 17.
May this next week unfold beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings. Trusting that we’ll fly together soon….love, bella
Been thinking about resiliency. The way we desperately need it right now. What it takes to build it. This gratitude-filled surprise to feel the most resilient I’ve ever felt in my life. I kid you not. Curious musing here about why that might be, starting with the dictionary definition.
Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness; the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape
Maybe this ability to recover quickly builds (or not) through negotiating the challenges and trials of childhood and young adulthood. In middle age some of us tap that resilience reservoir and buckle down, get with the program. Me? I took the traditional road. Before I could snap my fingers, I was immersed in the traditional trappings of mid-life: discovering how to live in a marriage, stumbling and fumbling through parenthood, signing my life away to a thirty year mortgage, negotiating career moves that morphed to entrepreneur-ship. In retrospect all that doing looks daunting. In the midst, I just kept moving through, deeply tapping reserves I didn’t even know had accumulated.
Perhaps resiliency multiplies in response to being mined. Anyway, making it all the way to now wasn’t just resiliency; I had a ton of luck and an equal amount of privilege delivering me past the bounds of middle age. It surprises me every day to be here. And in this current crisis, the huge demands of middle age are magnified while ease is expanded for some elders. I put myself in that category.
Still, when someone asks how I’m doing, what it’s like for me these crazy days, my answer depends on the moment. If they really want to know, if they have a bit of time, I speak a truth full of ups and downs, suffering and freedom, struggle and surrender, anguish and surprise. To live in this chaos, to be present with this level of unknown, can exhaust us.
If you’re more tired than usual, you’re totally normal. Our nervous systems are pushed beyond their comfort zones. I’ve had my share of weariness. But these months have been illuminating my ability to lean into a deep well of personal resilience. A reserve built over a lifetime, and not just through the sheer act of making it through. There is something more: the way I’ve consistently cared for myself over time is serving up a wallop of endurance, a stamina that feels uber-essential for survival in this chaos.
This Saturday’s Essential Recharge offers a practice for building resilience. All these “R” words keep tumbling out of what’s in store for us in two hours of Recharge:
Reflexes: instinctual response to the moment, heightened with practice
Resilience: built through finding balance between power and fluidity
Release: step one, key to unleashing all that power and fluidity
Resourced: by the dynamic duo of subtle strength and soft surrender
Reverence: connecting us to a greater power than our own
Two hours to gently receive an introduction/refresh of all the essentials. You choose how to follow up at home with access to real-time recording. Bits and pieces you can dive into in the privacy of your home, on your timeline. Here’s a quick YouTube video-shot of the territory we’ll cover on Saturday.
If all this intrigues you and you want additional support, on-line classes begin again every Thursday and Friday morning starting September 17. And I’m listening. You have been talking to me, telling me the positive effects you are feeling from this practice. Wow…who knew resiliency could feel this good.
Come feel with me…..❤️Bella
P.S. Link to pre-enroll/donate for Essential Recharge is at the bottom of this page: Yoga On-Line.
On Mother’s Day this year, my astute and thoughtful daughter gifted me with StoryWorth, an ingenious writing program encouraging family elders to tell the stories that comprise a life. Each week I get a new prompt. After 52 weeks StoryWorth binds the responses into a book. Last week it was “How and when did you decide to have children?” A few weeks before it was “Are you more like your father or your mother? In what ways?”
This mother/father inquiry was deep and long. Offering a bit of an excerpt here because what emerged from this inquiry helped nudge me toward a process I have been steeped in these last few weeks.
“From my papa I received a fiery drive and the ambition to be successful. He modeled it 100%. It took him a decade while working full time to graduate with his engineering degree from UCLA. I remember sitting on the curb in the dark waiting for him to come home. He was gone so much of the time. Then he went on to USC, earning a masters in ocean engineering. Measured in time-devoted, his profession was more important to him than anything else. I have that tendency and have to pro-actively seek balance….
From my papa I am blessed with insatiable curiosity. It knows no bounds. The littlest things can intrigue the hell out of me and create desire to know more deeply. I think his drive was nourished by curiosity. His many re-starts and do-overs taught me that it is possible to start over, be interested in something new and follow it, change directions, turn on a dime, be spontaneous, trust your gut, go for it….
From my papa I not only learned how to teach but he gave me the leg up to become masterful at it. So many memories of him lying on the couch with one of my math or chemistry textbooks, patiently guiding me toward understanding. He just knew how to logically sequence any subject so that learning just happened…..”
The way our relationship healed over time, to be present with him as he passed in March, to receive a modest financial inheritance…to remember his qualities of curiosity, professional ambition and natural teaching ability…all of this led me to seize this strange moment to (once again) re-do the website. It is five years old. It amazes me to look at it, realize how much has changed—in me and the world—and feel the way what I do is not clearly defined by it any longer.
And what do I do? Reality is one thing. Articulating it is another. Slowly the fullness of this picture has been emerging. For twenty years I’ve been offering service rooted in this sacred triangle: you can meet me on the dance floor, on the mat or one-on-one. And now it can also be virtual. It does not matter where we meet…the journey is always moving in the same direction. Aware. Awake. Alive. Presence happens with practice.
I offer transformative movement sessions that guide you on this path to presence. A journey that always begins with your body. You learn to listen to its language: breath and sensation. This attention delivers you to your authentic emotions and thoughts. With the support of moving meditation sessions, alignment of body, heart and mind come naturally. And as this alignment unfolds, a portal to soul and spirit opens for each of us. Soul? Our unique purpose for being on this planet in this lifetime. Soul speaks to why we are here, what we are meant to do in this precious lifetime. Spirit? Our connection with something way more vast than soul. The power, the life force that connects and unifies us all.
Our world is changing so rapidly. A practice of presence is not only revelatory, it can be revolutionary. Feeling lately that it could be a matter of survival. So I am inviting you to come with me as if your life depended on it. Because maybe it does.
See the links below to join me on this path to presence for three more August Essentials: Tuesday 18th Essentials, Friday 21st Deeper Being and Saturday’s two hour intro/refresh: Essential Recharge August 29 10:00-noon. Essentials re-starts after Labor Day, the week of September 13. Sunday Sweat Your Prayers is ongoing, does not miss a beat. It was so beautiful to be, move, dance with you yesterday.
Embodied, feeling what is arising, noticing the narrative, clear about purpose, connected with spirit. On the path to presence…
This morning I woke in residual panic, breathlessness that remains when a call, desperate to place, at last goes through. My eyes wince softly in the spare morning light. Long seconds pass before I realize I’ve been dreaming. Funny how even strange dreams seem so banal at first glance. Not this one. I rose to capture the disappearing wisps.
I wrap a complicated garment around my torso, struggling my right arm into a tight sleeve that ends in a silver-haired wolf head covering my small hand. I wind the stole around me three times and slip my left arm into the narrow sleeve that ends in a long silver tail. The whole crazy get up barely fits, yet it’s great oozy comfort to be swaddled like this. I nest into the couch, relish a sense of being expertly held far away from the demands of the world.
Not for long. Soon I’m surrounded by a bevy of admiring older women who discover there is more underneath: a finely woven delicate shirt, fancy embroidered belt pack, precious stones crafted into fabric, long leather boots. The beautiful women are swarming, examining, commenting on every unique detail.
With a start I remember a 6:30 special dinner date. It is 7:15. I struggle breathlessly to divest myself of these trappings, special as they are. Sweating as I stuff the stones into my eyeglass holder and they spill all over. It’s nigh impossible to yank my arms out of the sleeves. I need to call my dinner companion. My phone is full of precious stone data and will not work. A young woman comes to the rescue, fixing my phone and loaning me hers. I am flooded with relief as I connect. I awaken.
Still in the hold of the dream, I climb the stairs to my studio and reach for the animal medicine book, opened many a time since received as gift in 1990. I read about wolf medicine: two pages devoted to what I already know. Forerunner of new ideas returning to the clan to teach and share medicine. Takes one mate for life and also has strong individualistic urge. Moon is Wolf’s power ally—holder of secret knowledge/wisdom. Howling at the moon is Wolf’s desire to connect with new ideas below the surface of consciousness. Wolf helps others understand their unique path in life. Wolf seeks out lonely places to find the teacher within, to find truth, looks for teachings no matter where she is.
Surely an apt description, a sign from my trusty subconscious to stay with what is arising, no questions asked when I howl at the moon and am gifted with new sensation, novel ways of knowing, heart-ful prescriptions. At this point I’m not really drawn to look much beyond the boundaries of my own fur. And I keep being called out into the lonely places. Places where teachings show up in the depth of a meadow, in the mist of ocean spray, beneath slippery river rocks. Places where wolf sniffs out wisdom. Surely these sacred spaces shout more loudly than textbooks and wise teachers and philosophical readings.
Maybe you too are in wolf medicine time. Perhaps current circumstances stimulate you to consider new notions, hidden wisdom, unique pathways, lessons from lonely places. Curiosity along these lines is what often draws me to the mat, to the dance floor and to the treatment table. I am learning right along with you how these places serve in different but still useful ways on-line. From Medicine cards by Sams & Carson:
“To live is to grow, and growing comes through accepting all life forms as your teachers.
Become Wolf, and take up the sense of adventure.
You may stop howling and learn to become the moon.”
Let’s howl together in the field somewhere this week. Love, Bella
Before I relate these two “called out” stories, I want to call you in. Wanna drop in to a communal ritual of embodied healing? Give your body the love and care and nourishment it needs in order to thrive? Essentials is there for you three Tuesdays in August: 4, 11, 18. I am totally ready to meet you on the mat. Bonus: recorded session available after each class. Check the link for info, Zoom enroll, payment.
Calling out describes what happens when you stumble and fumble as you incorporate new skills and, if you’re lucky, someone cares enough to take time and considerable energy to bring your attention to bear. So now for call out story #1. Right after the George Floyd murder I was finding my way through ravaged mid-town Sacramento. I snapped a picture of the heart-breaking “I can’t breathe” poster. It was Saturday, the day before I was to hold a Sunday Sweat. I used that photo on my Face Book page, a community reach to move and feel what was arising for each of us in this pivotal moment. I can’t count the number of times I’ve held community in moments like this. Too many.
Two weeks later, a thoughtful colleague engaged me in conversation about the use of this BLM poster for promotion. Curious if I’d donated proceeds to the BLM cause. Here’s how well I know myself. When my initial internal response is “F—k you, I’m outta here” that’s when I know it’s time to wake up and stay. She was kind, curious, clear. My initial defensiveness dissipated quickly as the dialogue progressed. It took no time to realize how much I had to learn. Worthwhile learning never happens in a defensive field.
Call out story #2. Last week fifty 5Rhythms teachers gathered from around the world on miracle platform Zoom. The goal was to somehow begin to unpack this humongous topic. How does racial injustice intersect with this embodied practice? How might 5Rhythms be a map for healing this cultural wound? This skilled panel presentation was a solid warm up to a full wave of upcoming exploration. As a way to continue the work, a FaceBook page was established for further discussion.
One of the initial posts came from a teacher in Tel Aviv expressing sincere gratitude for space to explore this hefty topic of oppression. In case you are unaware, right now a vociferous faction of Israelis are protesting the systemic oppression of Palestinians. Indeed, there are so many places on the globe where oppression is rearing its ugly head in such time worn ways. Humans seem to have a built-in need to create a class of people who are “less than”.
Within moments her post was commented upon, by a black person, holding it up as an example of the habitual way white people change the conversation. “This page is dedicated to exploring anti-blackness.” This left me confused. The title of the page did not describe it as such. The 5Rhythms teacher group is international and the plight of African-Americans is so unique to a single geography. I posted a query. Aren’t we international? If we are, isn’t this page about oppression in its various guises? Instead of a quick response like this one, I hoped for a conversation with the full panel so more deliberate clarification could emerge.
And this is precisely what happened. The page was renamed Envisioning 5R As A Map For Collective Liberation: Being with Anti-Blackness. The decision of the panel was to utilize an anti-black focus as starting point. A useful, timely entry point to what may or may not become a broader exploration. This helped me understand the focus of the group and its mission to work with this unique African-American sub-set of oppression. I may have made a different choice, but hey, I’m not in charge here. Thank goodness.
Here’s how I got called out—again. A white person posted the more fleshed out explanation. She stated the panel knew a black person was more likely to be dismissed. Oof. I sat with what felt like an accusation. It stung. It was uncomfortable. I felt defensive. Oof. There was that trusty response: “F—k you, I’m outta here”. Time to wake up and stay and clean up. And so I did. I messaged my black teaching colleague and apologized. It was not easy. Nor did it go entirely smoothly. This is the nature of the work before us. Messy. And to look the other way, to ignore or gloss over this opportunity would not have been tenable. It would have felt cowardly.
The fact that I felt shamed, that I can make up all kinds of stories of what was right and what was wrong and who’s to blame and why I proceeded as I did and how I was really wrongly accused. No matter. I simply apologized. It is a lonely place to sit. Only today did I receive some support from sister colleagues. Licking my wounds. Totally willing to hang in.
How are you doing? We’re all being with our particular version of difficult right now. Quiet time of supported feeling in is medicine for these moments. I hope we can meet on the mat this week.
The Delta breeze that swept into Sacramento last night comforted me post-dinner as I conversed with two friends, folks I’ve known more than thirty years. Good-hearted people. Progressive people. White-bodied people. With social justice passion simmering beneath my calm exterior, I posited a simple scenario. You can jump right into this moment with me. Imagine we’re sitting in my peaceful backyard. We hear the gate un-latch, a white man comes into view. How does your body respond? Notice. Breathe. Now, same scenario, except a black man comes into view. Question: was your bodily response the same in each scenario?
In every conceivable way, these well-meaning intelligent people continued to not answer the simple question, changing the conversation over and over. “It’s more about size, not color.” “What expression is on his face?” “I lived eight years in a black neighborhood—I have zero prejudice”. It was impossible for them to land in the simple question: can you feel the different response in your body? Can you?
Our bodies send a multitude of signals that don’t vary in response to something real or something imagined. Neck hackles rise, belly becomes heavy-weighted, shoulders tense, jaws grip, breath disappears. All physical reactions for fight, flight, freeze readiness. If this moment is not an emergency situation, what a great opportunity to pause, settle a bit, investigate. Where exactly does it land in your body? What is this response calling for? What mood is present? What narrative is arising? How might I respond from a place of integrity?
One of the reasons I took a break from July teaching was to follow this thread. In meadow quiet and at river’s edge My Grandmother’s Hands skillfully guided me in each of it’s creatively embodied exercises. Slowly. Breathing. Allowing. As a result, I feel fundamentally shifted, awake in ways I never considered myself asleep. I’m a good person, a kind human, a relatively conscious being, politically progressive…radical in some ways. Yet I totally get that I have a big piece of work to do. That has only just begun. And I am very willing to move forward one small slow step at a time. That’s how real change happens. Grateful for Resmaa Menakem’s impeccable guidance. Highly recommended.
My teaching has always flowed directly from the vulnerable, often messy pasture of personal growth. I don’t know another way. Mat classes begin again next week. Sunday Sweats continue online and live in the garden through August. Wednesday Waves will re-start in September. Mat or dance floor—both embodied practices and clearly how I might best contribute to a shift in the culture. If you’re curious about how this hot topic can show up in a teaching space, this is the introductory nine minutes to Essential Recharge.
We can do our personal work but then there is this unshakable truth from William Oliver:
“Healing must be collective, both in its process and benefits.”
I have no intention of holding this current theme in a dogmatic way. I’ve been investigating and teaching about deep core awareness for many years. Growth and transformation begin with knowing what we’re feeling in any given moment. It is no coincidence that my own personal, historical and genetic trauma has made access to this critical knowing a challenge for me. We teach what we need to learn.
And this is a vulnerable piece: there is no doubt that the spaces I hold are very white. Interestingly enough, my focus is NOT on integrating these spaces, though I welcome and am learning how to create safety for people of all colors. Here’s the deal: the mat and the dance floor are ideal practices to create shifts in white bodies. White bodies that fall into three categories Menakem so deftly names:
“…white, racist and proud to be both;
white, racist and in reflexive denial about it;
white, progressive and ashamed of their whiteness.”
Whew, that’s a tough list to read. I’d like to add one category: white, racist and doing what is possible to change. Thanks for moving with me in these dog days of August. Love, Bella
COMING RIGHT UP…
Essential Recharge On Line
Saturday August 29 10am-noon
Sunday Sweat Your Prayers
August 2 9:45-11:15
Zoom in your home
Live in the garden
Essentials On Line
Tuesday August 4 10:00am
Deeper Being On Line
Friday August 7 10:00am
Wednesday Waves On Line
September 9 5:15pm
make your appointment
Wow…feeling the impact of taking time off in every part of me. And it did feel really good to show up last weekend and teach. But I’m headed back out for more time to be close to the earth, lean against trees, kneel in the grass, dangle in running water, sleep with the sweet smell of pollen wafting around me.
Much brewing about offerings in August and beyond. Website is all ready for enrollment in Tuesday morning Essentials. Will send email link for Friday Deeper Being students. Because it was so fun Saturday morning Essential Recharge offered again on August 29. Please let me know if you run into any enrollment snags. Currently undergoing website re-vamp to hopefully create ease for on-line enrollment for you….and me! Thanks for bearing with the same old system for August.
Curious about how life would be if you released what’s tight? Have you worked with your own fascia restrictions and found too incredibly painful? Wonder why people would ever submit to that? Hah! You’re not alone. And I’m speaking to YOU today. Most folks are drawn to this desperate maneuver because they have pain somewhere. You name it: neck, shoulder, low back, hip, knee, foot…wherever. When the roller meets the fascia it’s like the proverbial shit meeting the fan.
If your fascia is dehydrated and scarred it’s going to be painful when you first start. Period. You can mitigate this with a softer roller but there is no getting around it. It could even hurt a lot. Now pain is subjective. For some people the intensity is actually full of pleasure with comments like, “Oh my God, I’m finally getting to the heart of this problem, I’ve been waiting for this sweet relief.” Same technique, other person: “OMG, this is killing me, I’m NEVER going to do this again.”
Here’s the promise: what you feel is only sensation. If you just stick with it a few days it’ll change. Unless you’re different than most. I know, you’re special but most of you will notice by day three it hurts less. Guess what? You’ve started to make real change in your body. If you stay with it, guess what? It actually starts to hurt good. And this change in sensation that ANYONE can feel is assurance that you’re progressing.
And here’s the amazing part. After awhile there’s no sensation at all. Zero. I’m not making this up. There is currently no place on my body I can roll that creates ANY sensation other than a boring roller or ball pressuring my tissue. And I know from long personal experience that will change soon as I have an injury to deal with. It usually takes a bit of release to start to the journey out of pain.
But why would you even want to stop there? There’s a bigger and better world than “pain free”. With a little investment of time your tissue can be utterly optimal and this translates big time. Who doesn’t want to feel light and buoyant and fluid? Bound up stairs like it’s no big deal. Run to catch a ride without fearing for your life. Pick up that giant ceramic pot without being terrified by throwing your back out.
Come on. Get ready to roll with me in August. Let’s do it beautiful people.
P.S. Dance Alert: Sunday Sweats Zoom and LIVE OUTDOORS continue in August; Wednesday Waves begins again September 9.
The study of epigenetics reveals that stresses felt in current time alter our genetic makeup. Which makes utter survival sense. Except for some ways we stress out are not very healthy adaptive. No matter. Our response to stress is visible in our behavior AND will be passed along to future generations. Trauma is inherited generation after generation.
In one epigenetic study, mice were exposed to the smell of cherries with simultaneous application of electric shock. The conditioned mice quivered whenever they smelled cherries long after the electric shocks were discontinued. And here’s the amazing part: children and grandchildren, never actually exposed to the electric shock, inherited the fear of cherry smell.
The implications of this reverberate through me resting feral in the forest, reading two books back to back. Resma Menakem’s My Grandmother’s Hands
tackles the history and current status of racialized trauma. There is much written on this topic but this book is unique in the way it carefully builds the case for healing this cultural wound with embodied practices. Discussion, reading, training or anything else cognitive illuminates the issue. But behavioral change happens in the body first. My life is built around that notion so I’m grateful to find a resource that speaks my language.
At the same time I’m reading Nobody Will Tell You This But Me
by Bess Kalb, a story of four generations of Jewish American women. It begins with the harrowing story of her great grandmother’s escape from Eastern Europe genocide. Belarus, to be exact…from where my grandparents took flight. I persist in collecting my ancestral puzzle pieces in any way I can.
Back and forth between the two books, sinking deeper and deeper into the DNA truth of my own cherry smelling story. In fact, on several occasions Menakem writes that African Americans, Native Americans and Jewish Americans suffer from similar racialized trauma. To learn that race as a concept is recent New World “wisdom” with indigenous North Americans and African Americans just the first to be seen as other, therefore less than. Each new immigrant group—Italians, Irish, Eastern European Jews—were regarded as non-white as well—“stupid, barbaric, and dangerous.”
This is rich and timely territory. Many of us are seeking education about racism. Menakim’s book is so clear straight forward, the body practices sprinkled throughout bring the narrative home, to the body. Incredibly illuminating on so many levels.
The language of embodied trauma work is in our cultural lexicon now. If you’re unfamiliar with the words activate and settle, you’ve been out of the loop. Activation: a body’s physical response to stress as it readies to fight, flee or freeze. Settling: a body’s relaxation after stress has past. Each musical wave in dance floor practice moves from settled to activated back to settled once again. For a reason.
Activate and settle undercurrents in my mat classes. I love to teach the step before gross activation by focusing on tone, the subtle can-be-volitional recruitment that readies us for activation. Through discerning repetition we learn where the core muscular players live, how they feel and express, how to summon them to action. Kinesthetic sensibility comes with a huge bonus: the potential to investigate when we feel unnecessary contraction. To be curious about what’s happening in that moment. Is the activation habitual? Culturally conditioned? Genetic?
I teach relaxation/settling three distinct ways. Soften: prop use to release myofascial binding caused by injury, posture, genetics or chronic holding. Soothe: rocking, rubbing, pulsing, great skills to normalize tone. Finally good old stretching: re-establishing length in shortened muscle, the result of chronic activation.
There are many relatively easy areas to sense activation. You might recognize yourself in any of these four. Jaw: super-obvious for clenchers, grinders, TMJ pain-ers. Pelvic floor: clenching again, chronic constipation, urinary retention. I’ll stop the long list there. Number three? Breath: shallow, quick upper chest breathing. If you’re a regular reader you know activation area number four. Psoas: cramping, constriction, clutching deep in the belly.
The tender loins, the psoas, fear storage locker…intimately present on this feral in the forest journey. An early memory arose in the meadow this morning. Must have been five or six years old writhing in agony on the living room rug with severe stomach pain. This suffering went on for a while, bad enough to be hospitalized once. Never diagnosed. The cherry smell must have been rampant in that small Cincinnati apartment, my father’s generational rage blowing through our little family. A five year old has no words for that. Just this embodied belly clutch. Little wonder psoas has been a lifelong focus for me. With a name like Bella, how could it be otherwise?
Whatcha up to this Saturday July 18 10:00-noon? Join me for Essential Recharge with a focus on all the feel good rolling with psoas awareness woven all the way through. Whether core activation is a life-saver, genetically programmed, culturally conditioned or personally habitual, an uptight psoas wreaks body havoc. Read its signals, tend it for health—soften & soothe, tone & lengthen. This will be a round up of all we’ve explored the last three months but it will also serve as an introduction to home mat practice if you join for the first time. The available recording helps maintain your practice the rest of July. Come feel it.
Tailoring this offering in support of your home mat practice is my aim and it’s been gratifying to practice with you at home. If someone had told me a year ago I would enjoy and value teaching on line…no way! But here we are and I’m listening to your desire to continue learning in this way. If you’ve been on your mat independently these last two weeks, I’d love to hear from you. Remember, simply rolling out your mat and breathing for a few moments qualifies as practice. Please respond to this with your favorite mat story. I cherish your shares.
July 19 is Sunday Sweat Your Prayers: Zoom online in your home or simulcastlive in the garden, limited enrollment physically distanced dancers. We’re still keeping a close watch on local COVID trends and will cancel the live contingent if we must. The in person community that has been present and moving together—so respectful and care-full. I feel the palpable benefit of this offering outweighs the low risk. The way we link the virtual and the in-the-flesh community amazes me. What a world. Links below for each version.
I hope to spend some time with you this weekend on Saturday and/or Sunday, midway through my July break. We all have our own version of smelling cherries. Embodied practice is the only way I know to bring back the joy in that sweet smell.
P.S. August will be on the web soon. Tuesday Essentials: August 4, 11, 18 and Friday Deeper Being: August 7, 14, 21.
Feels like a chapter, this chunk of time spanning pandemic initiation until now. I didn’t know it was a whole book. The first few pages found many teachers cobbling together a way to teach on line. I hopped right in, this early scramble motivated by need: a clear calling to support community and to personally remain creatively alive through the uncertainty. The learning curve of being an online student/teacher was steep and relentless for us all, a mirror of everything else we were absorbing, digesting, getting the hang of. March drifted into April, May and June. Now that I know it’s a book, I feel how this first chapter is complete. So I’m taking a bit of a break this month, resting, dreaming, listening…feeling into the next chapter.
Wednesday Waves is on a break. Sunday Sweat Your Prayers continues two ways through July: Zoom online in your home AND simulcast live from the garden—limited enrollment, physically distanced dancers. We’re keeping a close watch on local COVID trends and will cancel the live component if we must. I’ll dance on Sundays but teach only July 19. After three tentative weeks, the incredibly respectful community present, Majica and I feel the palpable benefit of this in person offering outweighs the low risk. Links below for each version.
For months, during Tuesday Essentials and Friday Deeper Being, I witnessed us all on our home mats I’m holding that vision, inviting us to continue coming to our mats independently this month. To support us, to gather us, to call in those of you unable to join us on a weekday morning, I’m offering Essential Recharge Saturday July 18 10:00-noon—a round up of everything we’ve been exploring. It will be recorded for you to tap into the rest of the month.
The thread woven all the way through these upcoming two hours? Psoas awareness and the way it functions as body barometer. This amazing muscle always activates in response to stress. Our lives are chock full of that tension response right now. That activation can be a life-saver. But sometimes it is culturally conditioned or personally habitual. No matter, an uptight psoas is still the result and can wreak havoc. The antidote? We can learn to read it’s useful and not so useful signals as clues. And we can tend psoas—soften & soothe, tone & lengthen. Come feel it.
Right now, at the end of this chapter, I feel similar offerings emerging in August. Stay tuned. I’m leaving this morning for many days in the forest and hope to do as much camping as possible in July. Being close to the earth, away from technology and media, tracking the sun and moon and stars. I call it “going feral” and it never fails to nourish, inspire and replenish.
Sending love and support through the ethers this morning…Bella